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Teaching -- The Toughest Job There Is

D.C. teacher Fredrick Willis and students.
D.C. teacher Fredrick Willis and students. (2007 Photo By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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By Michelle Rhee
Monday, February 9, 2009

Much has been said and written about education in our city recently, and I want to set the record straight with students, parents and, especially, teachers. My thoughts about teachers have not always come through accurately. Much has been lost that they should know.

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I often speak of our district's performance data with sadness and outrage. The situation for our city's children is dire. Yet while I acknowledge the seriousness of the work we face, I want to be clear about something: I do not blame teachers for the low achievement levels.

I have talked with too many teachers to believe this is their fault. I have watched them pour their energy into engaging every student. I know they are working furiously in a system that for many years has not appreciated them -- sometimes not even paying them on time or providing textbooks. Those who categorically blame teachers for the failures of our system are simply wrong.

Rather, teachers are the solution to the vexing problems facing urban education.

In the coming weeks, we will submit a final proposal for a new teacher contract. Through it and other reforms, we can create, together, the most effective and highly compensated educator force in the country. Our key goals:

· Individual choice. Contrary to the rumors, nobody will be forced to give up tenure. All teachers will get a substantial raise. Some may wish to choose an option that includes pay increases and bonuses based on excellence in the classroom. This would result in many teachers doubling their pay, with some making at least $100,000 by year seven.

· Measuring excellence. We cannot rely on test scores alone. Good evaluations of teaching practices must be well rounded. Only some of our teachers work in grades or subjects in which tests are given, so we must use many assessments to measure student growth.

· A growth model of achievement. Many teachers inherit classes of students who are far behind academically. Yet some teachers, even with minimal support, move their students two to three grade levels ahead in a year. Teachers will not be evaluated on an absolute measure but on how far they take their students.


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